Single parents group reaching out

Danette Dooley
Published on May 21, 2013
SPAN executive director Yvette Walton with some of the prom dresses that people donated to the association. Formal dresses and men's suits are given free of charge to youth in single-parent families. — Photo by Danette Dooley/Special to The Telegram

After 25 years of helping one-parent families, the executive director of the Single Parent Association of Newfoundland (SPAN) says without major core funding, the association won't be able to continue offering its programs and services.

Yvette Walton says it's become a struggle not only to continue to provide services, but at times, to come up with the money to pay the association's staff members.

Consequently, she says, her organization is embarking on a major fundraising campaign to bring in money for such things as rent, salaries, heat and other necessities.

While individuals and businesses are quick to donate to special initiatives such as SPAN's back-to-school and Christmas hamper projects, Walton says corporations aren't so eager to give funds earmarked for routine operating costs.

SPAN receives an annual grant of $20,000 from the provincial Department of Health and Community Services.

The Department of Advanced Education and Skills (AES) funds the association's employment support program.

Since its inception in 1998, more than 1,600 single parents have gone through the program. About 90 per cent of participants in the St. John's area have found jobs, Walton says.

Alicia Cox is one of the program's success stories. Since completing it, she has found a job as education co-ordinator with Planned Parenthood.

Cox is a single parent to a young child. She says the program helped her with her resumé and job search, as well as learning to handle her finances and adjust to life as a single parent after her relationship ended two years ago.

"There are many times I called the staff in the midst of tears. Every time I phoned ... they were always there for me. It was such a blessing," the 35-year-old says.

According to the 2006 census, there are more than 24,000 single parent families in this province. Walton says 16 per cent of these homes are headed by men, some of whom rely on SPAN services.

The services are essential to single parents, Walton says.

"About 40-50,000 of Newfoundland's next generation are ... being raised in single-parent households. If these households, with their stresses, become dysfunctional, we are creating a stick to beat ourselves with," Walton says of the need to support single-parent families.

The roots of SPAN

Margaret Acreman founded SPAN in 1987, based on her experience as a single parent. Her goal was to provide practical services to help single parents take back control of their lives.

"Margaret is one of these amazing people who, when they get over a rough patch in their lives, reach back to others to help them so they don't have to go it alone," Walton says.

Acreman recently received a Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal for her efforts on behalf of single parents.

The organization she founded and initially operated out of the office of St. James Church in St. John's has expanded over the years and now employs nine people at a 4,300 square-foot building on Logy Bay Road.

In addition to the employment support program, which is also offered in Carbonear for single parents in the Conception Bay North area, SPAN's programs and services include crisis intervention, information and referral, a food-and-clothing outlet, community kitchen initiatives, back-to-school and prom dreams projects, peer support and parent effectiveness training.

The association's heart-healthy cookbook has also been a huge success, Walton says.

Margaret Harnum, a single parent who has been involved with SPAN since its inception, compiled the book over two decades ago -with professional advice from dietitian Annette Stapenhorst.

Walton says the cookbook, which was featured in Canadian Living magazine, has been sold in numerous parts of the world and is available for purchase through the SPAN office.

Services when needed

Single parents use the services SPAN offers when they need them the most.

Walton says the housing crisis and cost of heating a home have forced single parents, who haven't needed to use the food outlet, back to SPAN's steps.

While none of the staff at SPAN are professional counsellors, Walton says most are single parents who have walked in similar shoes to those reaching out for help.

"The effectiveness of what we do is (based on) single parents talking to single parents."

Cox says that type of support is what single parents need.

"SPAN offers no judgment but complete and utter support. I don't know where I would have been if I hadn't contacted them and gotten involved. I really don't."